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Florida Keys center offers students unique marine mammal degree with hands-on training

  • In this Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 photo, Karen, a blind and aging sea lion, responds to a command during a training session at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, Fla. Geriatric marine mammal care is becoming more important today as marine mammals under human care are living longer than their counterparts in the wild. To meet these growing needs, the center has established the College of Marine Mammal Professionals. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    In this Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 photo, Karen, a blind and aging sea lion, responds to a command during a training session at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, Fla. Geriatric marine mammal care is becoming more important today as marine mammals under human care are living longer than their counterparts in the wild. To meet these growing needs, the center has established the College of Marine Mammal Professionals. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 photo, senior trainer Kelly Jayne Rodriguez gives a kiss to Karen, a blind and aging sea lion, during a training session at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, Fla. Geriatric marine mammal care is becoming more important today as marine mammals under human care are living longer than their counterparts in the wild. To meet these growing needs, the center has established the College of Marine Mammal Professionals. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    In this Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 photo, senior trainer Kelly Jayne Rodriguez gives a kiss to Karen, a blind and aging sea lion, during a training session at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, Fla. Geriatric marine mammal care is becoming more important today as marine mammals under human care are living longer than their counterparts in the wild. To meet these growing needs, the center has established the College of Marine Mammal Professionals. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 photo, a dolphin named Molly, who is in her early 50's is given water through a tube by a trainer at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, Fla. Geriatric marine mammal care is becoming more important today as Molly and other dolphins in human care are living longer than their counterparts in the wild. To meet these growing needs, the center has established the College of Marine Mammal Professionals. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    In this Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 photo, a dolphin named Molly, who is in her early 50's is given water through a tube by a trainer at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, Fla. Geriatric marine mammal care is becoming more important today as Molly and other dolphins in human care are living longer than their counterparts in the wild. To meet these growing needs, the center has established the College of Marine Mammal Professionals. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)  (The Associated Press)

A marine facility in the Florida Keys is offering college students a unique opportunity that combines a degree and hands-on training.

The Dolphin Research Center has five students in its new College of Marine Mammal Professions, which offers an Associate of Science Degree in Marine Mammal Behavior, Care and Training. The International Marine Animal Trainers' Association says the 36-week program is the only one in the U.S. that teaches hands-on training and care of marine mammals.

The students learn how to take care of aging marine mammals, such as Karen, a 27-year-old California sea lion that's completely blind.

The students also learn how to prepare specific meals for the animals, including two nursing baby dolphins at the center.